Pace Jon's post: CNN's "swagga" video is a must-watch. Anchor Kyra Phillips hosts a segment on president Barack Obama’s “swagga” (going to basketball games, eating dinner, hugging people) featuring correspondent T.J. Holmes after which Holmes entreats Phillips to "hug it out" and then Phillips insists that she "gotta get that bump" (read: terrorist fist-jab) before wrapping the segment. Check it out:
I know that CNN is trying to make inroads with the coveted 18-34 year old bloc that is accustomed to watching junk food on television, but really? The theme from Shaft? The insistence on saying “flava”? They were worried about not being politically correct, but instead they were just embarrassing. And in my eyes, the word “swagga”—and the upside of the Obama era—just died a little…
So why is the media behind the moment? I did a television appearance this week during which I talked about Obama's policy and messaging, which was greeted with polite nods, and then a followup question: “But Obama’s kind of cool, isn’t he?” Sure he is! I know I’m young and all that, but couldn’t we have stuck to budget talk? Perhaps nonblacks might feel awkward saying “swagga” and “trill” and such (I mean, props to Phillips for at least that) and so might want a minority guest to break that ice. But today’s youth culture has flattened into a general brownish hipness that’s accustomed to sharing slang, mannerisms, and dress that it’s kind of silly to trot out a whole segment aimed at "translation." It doesn't feel real to the young people one's supposedly trying to attract.
Adam Serwer gets at a tangential point over at TAPPED, regarding last night’s presser, wherein BET reporter Andre Showell asked the president about black unemployment in the recession. He says:
I don't mean to single out Showell, but I don't know what is gained from asking these kinds of questions. At best the question is so vague and general as to solicit a vague and general answer, at worst it looks like the reporter is getting on a pedestal and reminding Obama that he's black. Framed in this manner, the question is unlikely to get a substantive policy answer for the reason I described above. It would be more effective to ask questions about specific policies that would affect the black community — criminal-justice reform, better regulation of predatory lending and credit cards, or the mortgage cram-down bill that seems destined for defeat because of anemic support from the administration.
I think Serwer is right. More specificity is always better when questioning a president, even when you have an audience that supposedly wants to hear all about race. But I think they'd rather hear about American public policy. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted today, "in the last election, I'm hard pressed to think of [a political issue] that would crack the top three (health care, the war, the economy) that differ from those you'd find among white people that voted for Obama." That is to say, black people may be harder hit during this recession, but care about health care, Iraq, and the economy just as much as all the other racial and ethnic groups in America. No translator necessary.
So by this same token, I think CNN and other networks would be better served—and attract lasting viewship instead of awkward one-offs—by having smart black folks come on TV and talk about mortgage refinancing policy and funding for charter and magnet schools. Which are really going to matter to black America.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.